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|Kevin Krock, editor|
I'm sure most of you have seen Who Framed Roger Rabbit at one time or another, so I am not going to rehash the details of the plot of this wild mix of film noir and Tex Avery cartoonstyle animation. This groundbreaking and multiAcademy Awardwinning film pushed the state of filmmaking art in 1988, and it did so with a wonderfully amusing and impressive mix of liveaction actors and handdrawn cell animation.
Set in Hollywood in the mid1940s, the story follows washedup detective Eddie Valiant as he tries to find the murderer of gag factory and Toontown owner Marvin Acme. From the surface, it looks like cartoon superstar, Roger Rabbit, did it, but as Valiant follows the trail of clues, the trail gets increasingly more complex. Ultimately, the survival of Toontown is discovered to be at stake, and it is up to Roger and Eddie to save the Toons. While generally familyfriendly, keep in mind that the movie is rated PG and more appropriate for older children.
A couple of years ago, Disney released Roger Rabbit as a movieonly DVD, but it was plagued by a number of shortcomings, including a very poor video transfer and a couple of wellpublicized censored scenes that were digitally removed or obscured: Baby Herman's goose and Jessica Rabbit's flying flash.
Fortunately, for its 15th anniversary, Disney decided to reissue the movie as a VISTA DVD series title (Vision, Imagination, Style, Theme, Artistry), which touts a close partnership with filmmakers, that presents the definitive version of the filmmakers' cinematic vision, with premium picture and sound enhancements, and in-depth supplemental bonus programming derived from collaboration with the filmmakers.
Indeed, with this goaround, the movie looks much better than the previous DVD release, and the previously mentioned censored scenes have been included, albeit in slightly modified states. Baby Herman now, as he did in the theatrical release, reaches up under the skirt of the woman whose legs he walks between but to soften the impact, he is missing one of his fingers. If you have seen the laserdisc, you know what I'm talking about.
Additionally, Jessica's dress has been digitally touched up to cover her up in the flashing scene. The frames with Betty Boop flashing are still missing, though. Granted, these are things that could only be caught by going frame by frame through the movie, but they represent a trademark of animators that should be included in any definitive version of a film: virtually subliminal inside jokes. Fortunately, all of the other more innocuous inside jokes are still intact.
Given the utterly disappointing lack of goodies on the first DVD release and the intricate production complexities of this film, a collector's edition DVD simply had to be produced at some point. At least that was what I hoped after refusing to buy the first disc. After seeing the proposed goody list for the VISTA release a couple of months ago, I was greatly encouraged that Disney had finally realized that Roger Rabbit deserved much more attention on home video than it originally did.
The VISTA set comes on two DVDs, with the first one containing the full-frame version of the film (Family Friendly) and a few rather small tidbits. The second one features the anamorphic widescreen version of the film (For the Enthusiast) and a bunch more goodies. I'm not sure why Disney marketing insisted on labeling the discs as such, because there are things on both discs that everyone will enjoy watching. I know I did.
As for the goodies themselves, Disc 1 is relatively light on bonus items. The short Who Made Roger Rabbit documentary and Trouble in Toontown settop game are interesting but not really items that I found myself going back to. By far the best items on the disc are the three Roger Rabbit shorts: Tummy Trouble, Roller Coaster Rabbit, and Trail Mix-Up. They very briefly appeared on a laserdisc several years ago, but they were quickly pulled from stores for containing a couple of animator jokes that could be construed as being non-family friendly. They are not easily detected, unless examined frame-by-frame, like you can with laserdiscs or DVD.
All three animated shorts contain a number of little quickerthantheeye animation jokes, like the heads of Genie, Tinkerbell, Mickey, and Evinrude the dragonfly (from The Rescuers) appearing on bees, the Made in Glendale stamp on the bottom of the rocketing bottle, the We Visited Splash Mountain bumper sticker, and the Burbank door. They are all still there, but the questionable area in a few frames appears to have been digitally softened, so you can still make out what it is but it is less obvious than on the old laserdisc. Besides those little jokes, the animated shorts are quite humorous and very well done. It is too bad that we will probably never see another Roger short or followup to the movie.
Disc 2 contains a slew of goodies that should please fans and families. The fulllength audio commentary with director Robert Zemeckis and fellow filmmakers Frank Marshall, Jeffrey Price, Peter Seaman, Steve Starkey, and Ken Ralston is well done. It is filled with a bunch of funny stories and interesting trivia that truly helps the viewer understand the huge production challenges that were overcome to bring Roger Rabbit to the big screen. Even with the large number of participants, the commentary never gets confusing or overly busy, and it always keeps moving along, keeping you engrossed.
To really get your fill of behindthescenes information, you can listen to the commentary and turn the Toontown Confidential pop-up trivia feature. The scenespecific trivia pops up at the bottom of the screen and provides little tidbits about a particular actor, an animated scene, or things to look for, like the murder train towards the end of the movie. It ends up almost being information overload, but I had a blast soaking up the information.
One of the nice features with this disc is that you can dynamically switch the audio and subtitle tracks to turn the commentary and pop-up trivia on or off. This way, you can be watching the movie and decide at any time to jump to either or both of the features without leaving the movie, as several other Disney DVDs force you to do.
Should you want to see some of the cool behindthescenes items mentioned in the commentary, there is a nicely produced 36minute documentary called Behind the Ears: The True Story of Roger Rabbit. This allnew documentary covers every aspect of the production, and it includes a bunch of reference footage, pencil animation, interviews, and comparisons. While not as indepth or as long as some film documentaries, this one satisfied my interests, and I've already watched it a couple of times.
Also on this disc are a number of other short but equally cool goodies including The Pig Head Sequence, a fullly animated but deleted scene with director commentary, a Toon Stand Ins featurette showing rehearsals with standin toons, and a behind-the-scenes look at the making of a Benny the Cab scene. To cap off this nice set of bonus material, there is a nicely designed and executed still gallery called, The Valiant Files. Rather than just running through a series of text menus, you explore Eddie's office and dig up clues and explore his files to find artwork, concept sketches, and character designs. It is a fun little idea that perfectly fits into the theme of the movie.
Finally, I do not really think this can be considered a goody, but it was certainly something that made me happy: there are no previews on this disc. Even the Platinum edition of Beauty and the Beast had a couple of previews, and I was dreading that annoying voice and music that is pervades the opening minutes of just about every other Disney DVD. When the disc pretty much jumped right to the very cool user interface detailed below, I just about fell out of my chair. I actually rechecked the disc to make sure I had not inadvertently skipped them. Nope, there are no ads, and that alone sweetened the whole deal for me.
The Video, Audio and Interface
Compared to the old DVD, the THXcertified audio and video transfers on this VISTA DVD are amazingly better. The anamorphic widescreen transfer on Disc 2 is detailed and sharp without the graininess that beleaguered the original DVD, and the colors are nicely saturated and balanced throughout the movie. The deep black levels provide the numerous dark scenes with wonderful depth and definition.
I did not notice any significant digital or film artifacts or defects, and I found the movie very enjoyable to watch and listen to. The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround soundtrack simply sounds great, and I'm sure the DTS track is equally acceptable. A quick check of the audio and video on Disc 1 confirmed that it too looks and sounds clean and clear. It certainly appears that Disney made a good effort at fulfilling their marketing claim that the VISTA DVDs contain premium picture and sound enhancements.
The interface is also a treat. Benny the Cab (voiced by Charles Fleischer, also the voice of Roger Rabbit) acts as your host on both discs, and allnew animation and vocal performances have been produced just for the menus. All of the menu screens have some sort of animation or video, and just about all of the transitions involve either short cuts of additional video or animation. It is the perfect icing on cake, and it gets you into the mood and feel of the movie right from the getgo.
The Final Evaluation
Disney has another VISTA DVD series hit on their hands with this release, and if you enjoy this movie at all, it is well worth picking up next time you see it. The film transfer looks and sounds fantastic, and the bonus material should please just about everyone. It is a great, award-winning movie that finally received the home video treatment it deserved, but as I previously mentioned, the movie itself may not be appropriate for the youngest of your family members, but you can always enjoy it after the preschoolers go to bed. That is what I have been doing (and enjoying every minute of it).
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